Infidel

The Paying Guests

by Sarah Waters

Overview: This new novel by the Welsh author of The Little Stranger and Fingersmith sets its scene in post-World War I London. On the widow Mrs. Wray and her unmarried, disenchanted former activist daughter Frances, the effects of the European war have been anything but remote: Their male family members are all dead; their wealth destroyed and their servants gone. Forced to take in lodgers, they soon learn that they cannot lead completely separate lives from these "paying guests" and, indeed, the life changes of the new arrivals deeply affects both mother and her spinster offspring. A major new fiction from a thrice-shortlisted Man Booker novelist.

Deanna Boe (01/07/18): This is an extremely unusual novel. The author, Sarah Waters, is a suburb writer. It is obvious that she has thoroughly done her research in terms of this era, which takes place in England shortly after World War I. Waters touches on the effects of the war both during and especially after. This is accomplished through the eyes of Frances Wray, and her widowed Mother. They were once a well-to-do family living in a large home, in an upscale neighborhood of London. Unfortunately, Frances’s two brothers were killed during the war, and her Father died shortly after. It is only then that she and her Mother discover that they are basically broke. Her Father was not proficient in his investments, which left Frances feeling trapped and her Mother mystified as to what exactly happened. We find Frances now doing the work that use to be accomplished by maids and a cook. It is obvious that her Mother doesn’t know how to do anything. Even so, they can not survive and thus hit upon the idea of taking in boarders, thus the reason for the title: THE PAYING GUESTS.

It is as the old saying goes, “the plot thickens,” or actually becomes more interesting. It is a young married couple, more or less the same age as Frances who move into their upstairs rooms, although Frances' bedroom is still upstairs. They are of a lower class then the Wrays. The wife’s name is Lillian and his is Leonard Barber. Lillian is excited about living in this upscale home, even though it is in need of much repair. It is definitely a “step-up” for her. Leonard survived the war and is now, basically, a successful businessman. Immediately Frances becomes intrigued by this unusual woman who dresses with a certain, bizarre flair. After all, Frances was making do with very conservative clothes she has had for years. Slowly she and Lillian become friends and even more shockingly – lovers. So, if you are not comfortable with a lesbian theme, this won’t be the book for you.

As I stated, Waters is an excellent writer. Just reading about this interesting timeframe alone shows how much research she must have done. But, saying that, it is a long book, close to 600 pages, that do not necessarily flow quickly, as some books of that length do. Even with the murder and then the trial, it can seem to go on just a little too long. One is never quite sure of the outcome, and thus the reason to keep reading to see just what will happen. Thus saying, I am not quite sure how to rate this book. It is unique, but so saying, if you are not into a lesbian plot, this would not be the book for you.
Rating: ***

Debbie Weiss (12/05/14): This story takes place shortly after the end of WWI. Frances and her mother now live alone. Her two brothers and her father have died, leaving very little money for them to live on. The decision is made to bring in boarders to help pay the bills.

A young couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber, move in and occupy the upper level of the house. With the arrival of these two individuals, life will never be the same for Frances and her mother.

The marriage of Leonard and Lilian appears to be strained. While Leonard goes off to work, Frances and Lilian strike up a friendship --- one that grows into more than a friendship. Their romance blossoms and they make plans to move out of the house into an apartment of their own where they can live together in a homosexual relationship. Then tragedy strikes; Leonard is accidentally killed during a skirmish among the 3 of them and an innocent person is arrested for the murder. A trial takes place and much of the second half of the book revolves around the happenings of the trial.

The premise of the book was interesting and I really liked the story in the beginning. As the story progressed, though, I felt as though Frances and Lilian's relationship became tedious. Do they love each other still? Or do they not?  Is Lilian just in the relationship as a means of escaping her unhappy marriage to Leonard? Would the relationship withstand the outcome of the trial? What do they do if the innocent person is found guilty? Do they admit what really happened? As well, the graphic descriptions of the homosexual sex made me uncomfortable.
Rating: ***

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